When you get hurt badly, it has a way of consuming your life. I am quite certain at this point people who are in my life are quite sick of my injury of recovering from a torn achilles tendon. But when it is personal to you, you feel every aspect of the pain and process. This is true beyond just physical pain. This is just as true when you are talking about emotional pain and loss. It is true about any kind of pain. The person going through it feels it all.
I have had something happen recently during the process of my physical pain. For five weeks plus, I was getting around on one of those sweet knee scooters. Then for about two weeks, I went to crutches and a boot before moving to just a boot. And now I have no boot as of about two weeks ago. Now when I walk in a room, people don’t see anything obvious. People begin to assume I am better. I have even had people say, “glad to see you are all better now.” And the truth is just because there is nothing visual to remind people of the trauma and because time keeps going by, people begin to think I am fine. Yet I can tell you that almost every step I take hurts. There is tightness and aching and time spent in physical therapy and time spent icing. There are moments of mental angst about the process itself, potentially re-injuring my foot, and what my life will look like in the future. And all this is over a dumb injury.
But here is the thing. We do this with people when they get divorced, break up or lose a loved one. We act like because some time has gone by or because they are no longer meeting with the lawyer or in a funeral home, life must be better. But we should consider something: When there has been a major trauma, people are still hurting even when it is not obvious on the surface. We should consciously consider and think through how someone’s experience may have affected their long-term health. They may have stopped crying on the outside, but not on the inside. They may have gone back to work and are around people, but they are incredibly lonely. They made have gotten through the first major holiday, but another is coming. I think there are some things we can do to help people in pain as they are going through the process. People serve people the most in the moments closest to the trauma, which is often helpful as the person is to numb to function. That said, I think we can help them as they continue to navigate the pain later in the process.
- When a friend loses a loved one, grab your phone and make a calendar reminder to take them out to dinner at the six-month mark of their loss.
- Send an encouragement card to the person regarding the recovery even once it looks like the person has recovered.
- Approach the conversation with the idea that they are discouraged when you think they should be encouraged. (Not so they will stay there, but so you can truly encourage them as you meet them where they are.)
- Plan a get together/event with the person during what will inevitably be a hard season for them based on the pain they experienced.
- Offer pragmatic help with a routine task (meal, lawn, cleaning, childcare, leaves, etc.) to the person months after the pain with the goal of just refreshing them.